some notes on kindness after a failed birthday surprise and a successful birthday dinner

sometimes life becomes too fast to keep up with, but you must endeavour to remember your own agency and the effect your actions have on others, always.

  1. be conscious of your phone usage. minimise it when you are with your loved ones — savour the moment while resisting the compulsion to document it. if posting, keep your phone away immediately after.
  2. always always always try until your very limits and then some to be KIND. the greatest battle in life is the one against meanness and betrayal of one’s friends. it doesn’t matter if they betray you: understand this first. try your very hardest not to betray them. not to give up so quickly. the guilty voice inside you should serve as an indicator of how to act in future circumstances. to give in to meanness = to deny the same complexity & humanity in others that you hope they would afford you.
  3. allow anxious thoughts to come and go more freely without latching on to any of them. no reason to do so.

it may seem hard when other people do not align with how you’d like them to be–may seem hard when you have to try to understand and like a person rather than to get along with them immediately, but the battle is worth it. if not for their sake, then for your own. i can’t afford to give in to meanness anymore because of the guilt i feel after. even with —. i do feel guilty for not talking to her, not being able to look her in the eye. and i don’t want this guilt: i want to know that i have tried my best and take comfort in that.

funnily, even though i had such a lovely evening, i have come home racked with anxieties. the people i love, my friends, rack me with anxieties because i always feel that i’m not doing the very best by them as i could be. the people i love make me want to be kinder, better and more respectful with their trust, their hearts and their personhood. remember love always always always. it seems sometimes like you need to cultivate other aspects in order to fulfil your potential as a human being–cultivate ambition, cultivate a strong personality, cultivate hardworkingness–but LOVE is the most important.

love is the best thing in my life right now: love is what i am unconsciously striving for, all the time, after everything else. love is necessary, absolutely fundamentally life-threateningly necessary. for a while i’ve been thinking that all the other things i mentioned were necessary, but at the very end love is the most necessary of all. the steadfastness to remain loyal to your friends and not easily betray them, the patience to respect another person’s journey and insecurities, the endurance to tolerate and endeavour to find meaning & complexity in the instances when they fail to be what you’d “prefer” them to be. life is long… and there are 7 billion & counting people in the world. this is the only thing that matters.

Art notes: “Lopung is Dead!” @ A+ Works of Art, Sentul

The foundational ethos of punk rock is speaking truth to power. If you look at the work of Sabahan art collective Pangrok Sulap (“pangrok” being a localization of “punk rock”, “sulap” being a Dusun word for a kampung hut), you can see their punk rock heart shining through and true. Several days ago, on the 4th of October, they launched the opening night for their first ever solo exhibition in A+ Works of Art, located at d6 Sentul. The exhibition is titled “Lopung is Dead!”, with “lopung” being another Dusun word for pythons, and which in Sabahan slang is also used to refer to lazy and irresponsible workers.

As their choice of names hints, the work that the art collective does is highly localized. Their work is influenced by current events and everyday life in Malaysia; their prints criticize political corruption, environmental disregard and governmental propagandizing, while also celebrating the strength, beauty and unity of the people, especially the orang kampung.  

When I entered the space, there was a huge semicircle of people crowded around two massive floor-to-ceiling canvasses, both of which make up the work “Sabah Tanah Airku”. This is perhaps their most famous artwork, since it was hit with censorship last year when the organizers of the Escape from the SEA exhibition at APW were forced to pull it down due to pressure from anonymous public complaints.

“Sabah Tanah Airku” presents two “Versions” of Sabah: on the left side, there is the postcard-perfect Sabah–a harmonious Sabah, a picture that rings somewhat true, a picture still worth making, but also a superficial one. In Version #2 on the right, we see the facade discarded. Farmers who are toiling happily in the former are depicted with angry, weary faces in the latter. The “prosperity” and modernization of the former shows its consequences with the privatization and environmental destruction portrayed in the latter. While the former is composed in a bottom-top arrangement, with the people depicted in the foreground receding into the back, the latter has a top-down arrangement that portrays the people aggressively dominating the picture and the land.

The two works that make up “Sabah Tanah Airku”

Over in the next section is a collection of prints grouped under the title “Ma=Fil=Indo”, depicting an internationalist vision of a Malaysian, Filipino and Indonesian union as proposed by Filipino hero Dr José Rizal many, many years ago. The Malaysia of today seems wholly dedicated to be something it’s not, by incessantly importing foreign goods and corporations from those who used to colonize our region (America, the United Kingdom, Japan…), and so the Ma=Fil=Indo series showing solidarity with our neighbours is refreshing to see.


One of the works in the “Ma=Fil=Indo” series

Pangrok Sulap works with woodcut printing, a medium that’s perfect for the collective’s political message–a message that is clear, frank and literally stated in black and white. Their art has the ability of being both elaborate and simple at the same time. “Sabah Tanah Airku” are massive prints of elegant complexity that are completely filled to all four corners with various allusions and symbols, yet the message is unmistakable. The snake-and-ladder “Ular Lari Lurus” prints are a literal game of symbols, but it’s an easy game, one that any Malaysian will understand and relate to. Like the punk rock music that inspires their name, Pangrok Sulap’s works show that sometimes the most effective way of fighting injustice is to say things as they are. In black and white, on a large canvas and in public.

Towards the end of the night, a few stools were brought out for five of the collective’s members to give a closing performance. One of them pulled out a guitar with a bright yellow sticker on it that proclaimed “WE CONSUME WE DESTROY.” They performed a couple songs, ending with one called “Orang Kampung”. Though the audience didn’t know the lyrics before they began, the song had such an easy, infectious chorus that people were soon singing along.

Speaking the truth, challenging corruption, showing solidarity and politicizing your guitar. Works about farmers and the land, exhibited in an art gallery in a commercial building in the capital city. Pangrok Sulap’s exhibition is a reminder that fighting injustice really can be as easy as the chorus to their song, if only we have the courage to say things as they are and the mindfulness to remember, always, the shared land and history that we are all indebted to.